Bellevue was founded in 1905 on the flat land above the Bellevue Mine operated by West Canadian Collieries. The naming of the town is credited to Elsie Fleutot, the young daughter of one of WCC’s French principals, Jules J. Fleutot, after she exclaimed “Quelle belle vue!” (What a beautiful view!). In 1909 the Maple Leaf Coal Company commenced operations at the Mohawk Bituminous Mine and constructed the settlement of Maple Leaf adjacent to Bellevue. In 1913 WCC transferred many workers to Bellevue from its closed Lille operations. WCC displayed a five-ton coal boulder at the 1910 Dominion Exhibition in Calgary, Alberta.
This period of growth was not without setbacks. An explosion in the Bellevue Mine during a partial shift on December 9th, 1910 killed 30 miners. In 1917 a fire destroyed most of Bellevue’s business section, followed by smaller fires in 1921 and 1922. A shanty-town called Bushtown, or Il Bosc, below Bellevue was flooded in 1923 but persisted for several years.
West Canadian Collieries opened the Adanac Mine at Byron Creek in 1945, but by 1957 all of the Bellevue area mines were closed. The tipple at Bellevue continued to process coal from WCC’s Grassy Mountain open-pit, but was removed in 1962 after that operation closed. These closures caused a critical reduction in Bellevue’s tax base.
Bellevue finally incorporated into a village in 1957, and elected Alberta’s first female mayor. The realignment of Highway 3 in the 1970s led to a decline of Bellevue’s business section, although the residential areas continued to thrive. Following amalgamation of five local school districts in 1966, Bellevue joined four other local communities in amalgamation into the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass in 1979 which restored a measure of financial stability, and Bellevue continues to thrive today.
Bellevue Café shootout. On August 2, 1920 local miners George Arkoff, Ausby Auloff and Tom Bassoff robbed the Canadian Pacific Railway’s train No. 63 at gunpoint, hoping to find wealthy rum-runner Emilio “Emperor Pic” Picariello aboard. He wasn’t. Eluding the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Alberta Provincial Police and the CPR Police, Auloff escaped into the United States while Bassoff and Arkoff remained in the Pass area. On August 7 the two were spotted in the Bellevue Café. Three constables entered the café through the front and back doors, and in the ensuing shootout Arkoff, RCMP Constable Ernest Usher and APP Constable F.W.E. Bailey were killed while Bassoff, though wounded, escaped into the rubble of the Frank Slide . During the pursuit, Special Constable Nicolas Kyslik was accidentally shot and killed by another officer. Bassoff was eventually apprehended without incident on August 11th at Pincher Station, 35 kilometres to the east.
Although testimony suggests that the police officers had failed to identify themselves and had probably fired first, Tom Bassoff was found guilty of murder and hung in Lethbridge, Alberta on December 22, 1920.
Ausby Auloff was captured in 1924 near Butte, Montana after trying to sell a distinctive railway watch. Auloff, who had not been involved in the shootout, was returned to Alberta where he was sentenced to seven years imprisonment, and died in 1926.
Bellevue is full of quaint miners’ homes from the last century. The Bellevue Café was restored several years ago, although it is currently closed. Key heritage buildings are identified on the self-guided Heritage Driving Tour and Historical Walking Tour. The Bellevue Underground Mine Tour gives an ‘in depth’ experience of historic coal mining in the Pass.